Protesters burst into Lebanese ministry as crisis deepens

BEIRUT (AP) – A small group of protesters broke into a ministry building in Beirut early Friday and removed a photo of the president from one of its main rooms, as the Lebanese pound hit new lows against a background worsening of the economic and political impasse.

The dozen or so protesters who entered the Department of Social Affairs said conditions in the crisis-stricken country had become unbearable due to the rapid economic collapse and the continued crash of the pound sterling, which reached 25,100 per one US dollar. The previous record was 25,000.

Prices have skyrocketed in recent weeks as the government lifted subsidies on fuel and some medicines, making them beyond the reach of many in Lebanon. Three quarters of the six million inhabitants, including one million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty. The minimum monthly wage is now worth around $ 27.

Protesters blamed the ministry for being slow to issue ration cards that are supposed to provide monthly financial assistance to poor families.

Protesters broke into the ministry’s meeting room and turned over a framed photo of President Michel Aoun before removing it. They replaced it with an Arabic banner that said “October 17 revolutionaries”.

The protesters were referring to the start of nationwide protests on October 17, 2019 against the country’s ruling class. They are blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement that plunged the small nation into the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.

“Those who have usurped public money cannot carry out reforms,” ​​shouted one of the demonstrators before leaving the building following the intervention of the police. “We have hit rock bottom. Things cannot get worse.

The crisis was aggravated by the coronavirus and the port explosion of August 4, 2020 which left 216 dead, more than 6,000 injured and destroyed part of the capital.

The cabinet, formed in September after a 13-month vacuum, has not met for more than six weeks amid deep divisions between rival groups over the judge investigating the port explosion. Comments by a Cabinet minister that sparked a diplomatic row with oil-rich Gulf countries added to the acrimony.

In other parts of the country, demonstrators placed posters reading “the mafia that destroyed the Lebanese pound” in front of some branches of local banks, the national news agency said.

Over the past two years, local lenders have imposed informal capital controls that prevent many people from accessing their savings.

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Julio V. Miller